Note: The content of this post has been moved to my new blog. You can find the new post here:
Making moldings is one of the tasks we do as woodworkers that seems to intimidate many who are new to hand work. Lets face it, it’s pretty darn easy to chuck up a router bit in a router table and make miles of the stuff. But when you do it by hand, it’s not always so straight forward. Complex molding planes that cut the desired shape make the job pretty easy. But there’s still the challenge of holding the plane at the proper spring angle while you walk along planing an 8′ length of stock. Hollows and rounds are a bit simpler in terms of sharpening and tuning up the tools, but they take a bit more finesse to get a consistent profile along a long length than a dedicated complex molder.
I have and use both of these options, but sometimes a particular piece just calls for something simpler. Such is the case with the joint stool I started building some time back. The upper aprons and lower stretchers both get a molding cut into their face. This can certainly be done with the right molding planes, but as I looked at the profiles I needed to cut to match the original, not having those particular profiles in a complex molder, I realized it would take a very small hollow and round pair and a snipe bill for the upper aprons and two different pair of hollows and rounds and a snipe bill for the lower stretchers. That’s seven planes. And while I have the planes I would have needed, I knew this was not likely how the moldings were done on the original back in 1650. No, I think they would have used an even simpler tool. Enter the lowly scratch stock.
If you’re just getting into hand work and you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all those molding planes, you can breathe easy. While you won’t be using a scratch stock to make that cornice on the Chippendale high chest you’ve had your eye on, you can make a fair variety of simpler decorative elements with nothing more than a scrap piece of wood and an old worn out hand saw or an extra card scraper.
Now the million dollar question. Should you push a scratch stock or pull it?
I’m making some chairs from an oak tree that was taken down in our back yard. These chairs require that some of the parts be steam bent. I’m starting with the simplest of the few chairs that I think I’ll be able to get out of this log, a post and rung rocker. The two long back posts need a gentle bend in the design I’m building. So I needed a steam box. I could have gone the simplest route and bought a PVC pipe and some end caps. That’s not my style though. I like wood.
So the next trial of the steam box will be some back bows and arm rails for a sack back Windsor chair (or two). While the stock for those parts is only on the order of 3/4″ thick or so, the bends are much more dramatic, so they’ll be a much better test of the steam box and the wood from this tree. I’m excited though. This is fun stuff!
I did a bit more riving last Sunday and almost have the first 5′ log all split up into usable sections. Being a backyard tree, I did get quite a bit of waste splits as well as good splits. No big deal. The waste splits still make good firewood once they season.
Forest trees tend to grow straighter and have fewer lower limbs (a.k.a. knots). So if you are able to get your hands on a good forest tree, you will likely get more straight splitting usable lumber out of it (see most of the trees that Peter Follansbee uses) vs. a backyard tree. Still, some suburban and urban trees will yield to the wedge and froe. You might get lumber with a bit more twist and it may not split perfectly straight, but by riving a bit more oversized than you would with a perfect forest tree, you can still get a an awful lot of usable wood from the right backyard tree. And in many cases, you can get this lumber for free if you look around. Talk to your local tree services and I’ll bet you can find some.
Um, yeah, me. There’s a reason that smart people like Peter Follansbee, Curtis Buchanan and Mike Dunbar do this stuff when there’s still a bit of snow on the ground. I went through three t-shirts, two bandanas, a gallon of ice water, two IPAs and four ibuprofen (hey Bob, how many Snickers bars would this be?), but I got this 5 foot red oak log split into eighths on Saturday before the skies opened up. This log is destined to become at least one, but hopefully several chairs.
I still have another five footer to go if anyone wants to come over and swing a sledge hammer for a few hours…anyone…anyone? At least the second one will be cut into shorter sections first. That one will be used for joint stool stock for a couple of reproductions we are going to work on in the joiner’s shop at Pennsbury Manor. If you can’t make it to NJ this week, you can come to Pennsbury on August 4th from 1-4 PM and help me split one there. Maybe it won’t be in the 90s by then :).